Joy, Seasoned with Anger

My whole family showed up for Carter’s holiday performance at school last Friday. We like to arrive en masse and scare people with our numbers and our ability to make noise.

Not really, but no matter our intentions we’re the loudest people wherever we go.

In any case, we arrived at noon and the dozen kids in Carter’s class were nervous and excited for their performance. They took the stage on wobbly legs. Some kids said their lines so fast, we couldn’t understand a single word. Some of the kids whispered their lines, and the songs…how in the world should I describe the songs? Out of tune, shrill, and delivered at top volume.

It was fabulous.

I’ve seen Les Miserables, the actual Broadway show, and it paled in comparison to the rich and wonderful brilliance of Carter and his classmates on that stage. It was one of those shining events, created of the very stuff that makes life wonderful.

I went home full of joy. Carter’s school meets his needs in every way that matters. The twelve children in his class are in grades 1 through 5; all of them have mental and/or emotional issues. The middle and high school classes have similar numbers of students. The elementary school group has two classrooms, two teachers, and one teachers’ assistant. Carter also works one-on-one with a reading specialist for 30 minutes a day. Carter works hard at school, and while he’s working nowhere near his age-peers at the public school, he’s learning.

My son is happy and he’s learning. It makes me tear up, looking at those words on my computer screen and knowing that they’re true. Equally wonderful is the knowledge that, if (when) Carter becomes acutely symptomatic again, his teachers will help him. No more working at cross-purposes with the people who are charged with educating my child. No more fighting and struggling; at Carter’s school, we have found genuine compassion and a willingness to help.

My joy is always tinged with anger. Every child at Carter’s school was once a student in a public school. They all had IEPs or 504s. Their parents fought the same fight we fought and, discouraged, turned to our financial resources (or those of our families) for a solution. All of Carter’s classmates come from families with access to enough money to pay private school tuition.

We’re not families who hope that, by making a large financial investment in our children’s education, our kids will go to Ivy League schools instead of public universities. We’re not aiming to create academic and professional brilliance in our children’s futures.

No, we want our children to achieve whatever level of academic success is possible for them. For Carter, at least, that’s very unlikely to include college. I don’t care about that. I don’t care about anything except helping Carter manage his illness and his various issues in such a way that he can create a satisfying, productive life for himself, whatever that means.

And that anger? It is always about this: the hundreds of other children in Albuquerque whose families cannot provide this extraordinary education for them. Our public schools are succeeding in some ways and failing in many more, but above all, they are failing our children with emotional issues.

Carter does not deserve this more than other children. He was fortunate enough to be born into a family that has the ability and the willingness to help him in this way, but he is not more worthy.

I enjoyed Carter’s performance right down to my toenails. I bank my feelings on days like that; I need something to draw on in those long, dark days when Carter’s illness fills the world from horizon to horizon.

I would enjoy a day like that even more if I knew that every mother of a little boy or girl with problems like Carter’s got the same experience.

Carter will go to school tomorrow, and in spite of his severe emotional and mental issues, he will feel as safe, happy, and confident as it is possible for him to feel. I want that for every child.

This post originally appeared at Hopeful Parents.


I eagerly awaited Carter’s stability for a long, long time.

I didn’t romanticize it; didn’t expect to shit rainbows or to find money raining in through the chimney. I accepted a long time ago that life with Carter is going to be difficult, even at its best.

No, I wasn’t full of overly-sunny expectations, but I never could have anticipated how completely I would fall apart. Really, I’m at the emotional place where I’m damn proud of myself on any day when I manage to brush my teeth and refrain from watching more than ten hours of TV.

I have not left the blogging world forever, but these days I can’t write (or even think) about anything or anyone but Jacob and Abbie and their absence. The pain is overwhelming and I can’t see over it.

My eyes are swollen and my face is tired. I don’t know how to live with this drum-beat at the back of my head that says, “My children don’t want me. My children don’t want me. My children don’t want me…”

On and on it goes, starting at guilt then cycling through shame, fear, anger, pain, loneliness, and back to guilt. Regret is just this terrible, poisonous horror that won’t leave me alone. In moments when my guard is down, I start to problem-solve, trying to find ways out of the pain, ways to fix everything and make it better. Then I remember there isn’t a way out; there’s nothing to do but keep letting my kids know that I’m here and I love them.

And me? I have to learn to live with this. My identity has to, somehow, include, “mother who did not finish raising her children,” and “mother whose kids don’t want to talk to her.”

I will learn to live with their absence. I will, because Carter and Brian want me around and that will keep me going until I can see the sun again.

In the meantime, please don’t forget about me. I’ll be back. Somehow, I’ll find a way to climb down off this stupid cross.

Damn, I wish I still smoked.